The news reports of Catholic priests charged with sexually abusing adolescents have shocked thousands of Americans. But for a group of psychological experts, the recent events aren't just news, they're a call for help from psychology.
Looking for guidance on how to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)? Need to chat with fellow psychologists about practice-management issues? Seeking tools to enhance your practice? Want immediate alerts on advocacy action you can take to support the profession?
Look no further than www.apapractice.org, a comprehensive, interactive Web site to be unveiled at APA's Annual Convention, Aug. 22-25, in Chicago. The portal will offer practitioner members a wide range of information tailored to their specific needs and interests in psychology's legislative, business and legal arenas.
"Psychologists will now be able to sign on to the portal to get psychology-related news, read about legislative alerts, see if there's any new messages on the discussion lists they've signed up for, and access all of the most recent products and services that are available," says David Nickelson, PsyD, JD, director of technology policy and projects for the Practice Organization.
The portal will also enable the APA Practice Organization--the (c)(6) nonprofit entity created in 2001--to expand its advocacy efforts on behalf of practicing psychologists.
"With a new advocacy link, psychologists will be able to stay informed and even print out a letter or e-mail their congressperson directly from the site," says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice. "The portal will make it easier for psychologists to communicate with Congress about issues directly affecting them."
The portal's offerings have been developed based on research the Practice Organization conducted to determine what kind of information, products or services practitioners want and need (see "Professional Point").
Overall, the goal of the new service is to "make it easier for members to practice and get the information, services and products they need to stay competitive in today's health-care marketplace," says Lisa Osborn, PsyD, the APA Practice Directorate's assistant executive director for corporate relations and business strategy.
How it will work
The portal will be available to APA members who pay the APA Practice Organization special assessment in addition to their membership dues.
To access the site, members will log onto the APA Practice Organization Web site and establish their passwords, usernames and contact information. They will then be asked to select the topic areas that they're most interested in, such as "child and adolescent issues," "legislative and legal advocacy," or "states, state and provincial psychological associations, and divisions." Thereafter, every time the member enters the portal, his or her front page will greet them with the latest news from news feeds related to those topics. Members could receive anywhere from one to five articles, depending on what's happening in the news and how they've set their preferences.
The APA Practice Organization Web site front page will also feature a navigation bar that lists the portal's products and services by topic, such as "Practice Resources," "Publications" and "Professional Development." Among the most prominent features will be information about the APA Practice Organization's advocacy activities and initiatives--for example, detailed information about HIPAA in a PDF format that members can easily print out.
"One of the things that we think is really going to be affecting our members in the next year is HIPAA," says Osborn. "So, we will regularly have information and updates on the portal's front page to make members aware of what they need to know."
Other Practice Organization publications and resources will also be immediately accessible. APA staff are also working to link the portal to APA books, journals and electronic products. "This is an effort to make it easier to find the information we already have for members and to increase the information we can provide to practitioners," says Newman. "For example, members will be able to search for information about topics important to them, such as 'public sector,' 'primary care,' 'private practice' or 'rural issues.'"
Legislative outreach, connecting with others
The portal will also enable the APA Practice Organization to alert members about legislative activities in more specific ways than ever before. For example, if APA knows that a senator from Montana could cast a decisive vote on an issue critical to psychology, APA will be able to contact Montana psychologists to say, "Your grassroots action can help more than anyone else's right now; We need you to act," Nickelson explains.
Once members receive the alerts, they will be able to click on a button that will automatically format and print a letter or send an e-mail note from them to the senator. "It'll be a quick keystroke or two," Nickelson says.
The portal will also link psychologists with their colleagues in new ways, through message boards, listservs, instant messaging and chat rooms. Members will be able to determine their own topics for discussion, but in the early months of the portal's operation, the Practice Organization will set up discussions on topics members have said they want more information about. Those may include, for example, an hour question period with a Medicare specialist or a chat with Russ Newman on the advocacy issues of the day. "Once we do some of those sort of things to help the community get started," says Nickelson, "we anticipate it will take off on its own based on member interests."
All of the discussions will be saved in a searchable archive that users can go back to by searching for key words.
The portal will also help practitioners reach out to others by setting up personal Web pages--electronic business cards, with their contact information. Members can choose to have cards be only "internally facing"--viewable only by other portal users--or "externally facing"--seen by anyone searching the World Wide Web.
If members want Web pages with expanded information about their practices and experience, for a small fee they will be able to build an expanded site. Members will be able to pick the color and format for their sites from a selection of predetermined formats. "We've heard from members that they are interested in having a page that is attached to their professional organization that identifies them as a professional," says Nickelson.
The portal promises to be an evolving service, growing as the Practice Organization identifies more products and services to meet members' needs.